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A Sanctuary For Cuban Migrants On Their Way To The United States

A Sanctuary For Cuban Migrants On Their Way To The United States /
14ymedio, Mario Penton

14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Miami, 5 January 2017 — Dozens of Cubans take
refuge every week in the shelter set up by the social ministry of
Caritas in Panama to continue their journey to the United
States. Although currently there are no bottlenecks in Central America
and the flow of migrants remains constant and away from the cameras, the
situation is far from solved and will probably get worse, explains
Deacon Victor Luis Berrio, executive secretary for Caritas Panama.

“On the last night of the year we had about 140 migrants. Every day 20
or 30 arrive, but as they come they go,” explains Berrio.

According to statistics provided to 14ymedio by the National Immigration
Service, in Panama, for all of 2016 more than 750 foreigners were
returned to their countries of origin. Of these, only 5 were Cubans. The
majority of those arriving in Panama do so from Colombia, which is used
as a springboard by those who travel without a visa from Cuba to Guyana
and the Lesser Antilles.

“The border crossing are going well,” explains Berrio, based on what
migrants who are in communication with his institution have told him.

“Some spend months here. In gratitude, they then write to tell us how
they are doing in the United States once they reach their destination,”
he adds.

Yuniel Ramos is a 31-year-old Cuban from Alamar, in eastern Havana. He
has been at the shelter for five days and, although he has tried twice
to cross Costa Rica to continue his trip to the United States, he has
been captured by law enforcement agents, who return him to the
Panamanian border.

“Here they give us food, cleanliness and welcome us until we can
continue the journey,” explains Ramos, who learned of the existence of
the Caritas hostel through the messages of other migrants on Facebook.

“The truth is that we cannot complain because the police treated us very
well in Panama and Costa Rica. They even offered us food when we crossed
the jungle from Colombia. The indigenous communities helped us cross the
Darien Gap, but we have to pay them,” explains the migrant.

“We arrive exhausted from crossing the jungle. This place is a great
help. Many people have been waiting for a miracle from God to continue
their journey, because they have no money,” he says.

Ramos hopes his relatives in the United States can send him money to
continue his trip.

“They want to avoid people having to go with the coyotes, but they force
them by keeping them from passing through. We just hope for a miracle
that will allow us to continue on the way to the United States.”

The Caritas shelter arose as an initiative to alleviate the humanitarian
crisis sparked by the presence of thousands of Cubans stranded in Panama
after the closing of the border with Nicaragua at the end of 2015.

“We had to set up dormitories where we used to have offices before. The
important thing is that people have a safe place to sleep and a plate of
food to put in their mouths,” says Deacon Berrio.

Two large groups of Cubans were transferred thanks to an airlift that
the Government of Panama agreed to with Mexico. In total some 5,000
Cubans were evacuated. But the problem did not end.

“After the airlift Cubans have continued to arrive; since August we have
hosted more than 1,500, which obviously requires considerable
expenditure,” he explains.

Thanks to the solidarity of organizations in the United States,
Panamanian institutions and Cubans resident in that country, they have
managed to continue aid for the migrants, valued at more than 120,000

The deacon says he has had no communication with the Cuban Church during
the crisis.

“We have seen five Cuban-Panamanians born in this shelter. There is no
other institution like this in Panama,” he says proudly.

Source: A Sanctuary For Cuban Migrants On Their Way To The United States
/ 14ymedio, Mario Penton – Translating Cuba –

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